It’s not a stretch to say that I lived a bit of a sheltered life growing up in rural Canada with my 60-year-old grandparents. Being in the country didn’t exactly help either, with my SNES and other consoles my only companions after the school bell rang. I tell you this about myself because it was the writers of many video games and movies who helped shape part of my early years, and I’m thankful for that in many ways. These writers gave a new perspective on the world around me yet kept it full of wonder and potential. I believe that world of potential inspired many of the dreams I continue to follow in my personal life and professional career.
I really experienced these things when I dove into RPGs, a genre in which I saw a storytelling mechanic that I began to understand — and evolve with — as I grew older. The game that really had me develop a “crush” in a sense was Soul Blazer, which in its ending scenes gave me the sense of “love conquers all.” In this nearly 15-year-old game, the hero misses his life as a human, and the God-like being of the game sends him back to Earth with one condition: he has no memory of his past life and thus no memory of his relationship with the lead female character, Lisa. Soul Blazer takes players to a time when Lisa finds the lead character, recognizes him and begs him to remember. Although he doesn’t, the lead leaves with her to renew their relationship.
That struck me as intense, because at that time (1992), I hadn’t seen a lot of movies or experienced that emotion. After all, I was 11 years old; I had only seen Jean Claude Van Damme kick people’s asses, or Arnie blow stuff up. Never had I really seem a “love story” set in a fantastic setting. I’m omitting Star Wars and Han Solo/Leia, because that is another article for another day. This realization of love is a profound sensation, and it really made me examine myself. I liked what it brought out in me: the feeling that love is one of those things worth fighting for and worth going after, no matter the cost. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy VII that I saw something new and in an unexpected place, Aerith Gainsborough.
I was still new-ish to RPGs, and only having played Final fantasy III (SNES version) and Illusion of Gaia (maybe Lunar), I didn’t want to put Final Fantasy VII down. This is yet another game universe that was larger than most I had seen before, and it really gave a depth to the characters and the struggle around them. But still, it was the relationship between Cloud, Aerith and Tifa that really made me take notice. I was maybe 16 at the time and had not yet had a serious girlfriend, and here this new dynamic emerged. It was something I hadn’t noticed in a real person yet, and it was a true sense of selflessness with Aerith and a nature that seemed so different from the people around me. In reality, it was more genuine than some of the people I have come to know.
However, as with all fiction, it’s easier to hold an ideal than it is to actually live it. It was something within that personality that really made me feel for this character: Love. A certain love that I felt she had for all people, without reservation, that really made an impression. In many ways it was one of the groundbreaking moments in video games in which almost everyone who had played the game and experience the death of Aerith cried out collectively “No!” This is where I actually felt a real sense of loss…and for someone who didn’t even exist.
Depending on which school of thought you subscribe to, if it exists in your mind then it’s real to you and your world. I suppose if I really wanted to raise some eyebrows I could compare it to religious faith. But let’s face it; it was a game. However, this “game” provided me with the first time I had really felt sadness on that level when it related to a girl. And that was when the word of “love” really meant something to me. To me, games like this helped define what a loving person could be, despite it being written and scripted. It helped set a precedent for my life.
I suppose the larger question is “what is love, and how do we define it?” It’s a chemical reaction at its most basic and stripped-down form, but when you ask 10 different people, you will get 10 different answers. Here is mine, and I learned it from a videogame character that was programmed in a different country from a man whose name I can’t even pronounce: Love is a selflessness and willingness to act in the face of danger. Lastly, love is also about compassion and that piece of the human emotional composition that no one, neither scientist nor philosopher can quantify. I learned these things from a flower girl and a man with a sword larger then himself.
With these ideas in mind, I prepare to ask my girlfriend to marry me sometime soon. And to think, it all started when I pressed Start….
Mike Dodd is co-founder and host of
This Week in Geek, an International radio show and podcast and a place where gamers and “geeks like us” can chill. His gaming column appears on DailyGame every Friday.